Two hours with Louis Crimp
Louis Crimp is perhaps best known for the nationwide stir he caused earlier this year when he suggested, rather candidly, that Maori should receive no special treatment.
The comments received widespread media attention and he was labelled a racist, although his views would likely be shared by many.
In the finest tradition of student journalism, Otago University student newspaper Critic sent news editor Callum Fredric to Invercargill to talk to Louis about life after his short time in the spotlight.
Critic editor Joe Stockman wasn't sure what Mr Fredric would come back with, if anything, and the outcome took everyone by surprise.
Callum Fredric's interview first appeared in Critic Issue 21, 2012.
When I first came up with the idea of interviewing Louis Crimp, I had a very simple agenda – to get as many outrageous quotes as possible.
The Invercargill multi-millionaire scandalised the nation back in May when he made a series of sweeping generalisations, such as “All the white New Zealanders I’ve spoken to don’t like the Maoris”.
He followed this up with an interview with 3 News in which he famously asked the reporter whether she had ever had sex up against a tree.
It would be crazy not to tap into this goldmine of controversy, so I set up an interview and drove south to meet Mr Crimp at his Invercargill home.
Early in the interview, Mr Crimp inadvertently foreshadowed his own demise.
“My thing on television was five minutes and they interviewed me for three quarters of an hour. But they just put the stupid things in…they picked out the words that would be controversial on TV. I was a sucker, I didn’t know that sort of thing… Am I on tape now?”
Little did he know that the exact same thing was happening all over again.
It was one of many points in the interview where it was difficult not to sympathise with Mr Crimp – he trusts people too easily.
On the other hand, his tendency to cause controversy may not be entirely accidental: “You don’t get any publicity by saying nice clever things.”
The controversial side
Despite his reputation for highly provocative comments, it took nearly 20 minutes for Mr Crimp to drop the first bombshell.
He began the interview by making fairly standard Don Brash-era arguments: “Maori shouldn’t have special privileges.They’re equal to us. We’re all New Zealanders.”
But it was only a matter of time before I got my first fix of controversy, with the Crimp version of pre-European NZ history that you probably won’t find in the Penguin History of New Zealand:
“The Maori culture before the white man came, they were Stone Age people.
"Each tribe used to be at war with the next tribe, and if they beat one tribe they’d kill all the males in it, and eat them.
"And I’ve got it somewhere that the females, they’d put them in a separate stockade, and they drove spikes through their feet so they couldn’t run away, and they kept them there to have sex with until they’re ready to be eaten.
"So they’re sort of like a deep freeze for food and sex.”
Ah, those were the days.
Mr Crimp followed up by saying that although Maori in Invercargill are “anglicised” and “part of our community”, Maori people in South Auckland are “still savages, on welfare or in jail."
A few years ago, he came up with a plan for making some cash off the people who shared these views, by setting up an all-white retirement village in Invercargill to lure people down from south Auckland.
“I couldn’t proclaim it being white, but somehow or another I would say that it was a predominant Anglo-Saxon society, you know.”
But he couldn’t secure the land, and the plan fell through.
Mr Crimp’s prejudice and suspicion toward Maori people is partly based on a string of unfortunate personal experiences: “I’ve had many Maoris work for me and every one of them has stolen from me or cheated on me. Even some of the Maoris who I [thought were] my friends.”
Te Reo is Mr Crimp’s kryptonite.
His aversion to the language is strong enough for him to pay for his five-year-old granddaughter to attend a private school in a failed attempt to shield her from having to learn it.
He also cancelled his long-running subscription to the Southland Times after it included a single Maori word in its crossword.
I asked Mr Crimp if there were any Maori people he liked in Invercargill.
“Oh yes, a [Maori] friend of mine used to train racehorses for me.”
Back in the day, “the Maoris, as far as I was concerned, they were treated as equals. I was proud of them in a way, because of the song that they had during the war.” He broke into song:
“Maori battalion march to victory / Maori battalion staunch and true / Maori battalion come to glory / Take the honour of the people with you / And we’ll march march march to the enemy / And we’ll fight right to the end!”
Showing some emotion, Mr Crimp continued: “This is the bit that gets me: For God, for king, and for country… AU - E! Ake, ake, kia kaha e!”
We were making progress. Mr Crimp had said something positive about Maori people.
But soon he reverted back to attack mode: “They say they were first here, but they weren’t first here.
"There were other tribes, the Morioris – the Maoris ate what they could of them and sent the rest of them away. And then they invaded where they sent them to and ate them all up there, too.”
Mr Crimp is considering donating $100,000 to John Ansell’s new “Treatygate” campaign, which aims to make New Zealand a “colour-blind state.”
He is concerned that the Constitutional Advisory Panel, which is due to report to Parliament in September 2013, will recommend a “partnership between the Maoris and New Zealanders,” which Mr Crimp describes as “apartheid and separatism.”
I ask him what he thinks are the causes behind Maori crime and welfare statistics.
According to Mr Crimp, truancy is the problem.
“Those Maori kids in North Auckland, Whangarei, they don’t go to school. The girls go and get pregnant and they’re on welfare for the rest of their lives, and the boys can’t get a job because they haven’t been to school, so they go into drugs and thievery.”
What would he do to fix this? “Yeah, that’s a good question.”
The sympathetic side
It’s easy to think of Louis Crimp as a cartoon villain, or in my case, as a controversy-generating machine to extract some hilarious quotes from and then set aside.
After Crimp’s comments in May, political commentator Chris Trotter was scathing: “Louis Crimp could have come straight from central casting. His narrow face, those pinched features: all the Invercargill businessman needed to complete the quintessential redneck ensemble was a greasy pair of denim overalls and a shotgun.”
But people are not cartoon characters.
No one is pure good or pure evil. Even the most controversial and divisive individuals inevitably have a sympathetic side.
Mr Crimp’s glare, which was mocked so mercilessly by Trotter, was not an attempt to stare down the photographer.
“I can’t smile properly because my face is petrified, it doesn’t move, it’s paralysed because I had cancer. I can only smile with one side. So I’ve just got a grimace.”
Mr Crimp has made millions through his various property ventures, and has gained many supporters in Invercargill for his charitable donations, including more than $1 million each to the SPCA and the St John Ambulance Service.
In an attempt to see the other side of Louis Crimp, I asked him about his reasons for these donations.
His philanthropy began when his lawyer told him he should “get out and spend” his millions before he died. But this was no easy task.
Mr Crimp says that from an early age he has was forced to “watch [his] pennies. I was the oldest boy in Southland who had a paper run, at the age of 16, because we were poor, my family”.
Having visited his house, I can confirm that Mr Crimp is not prone to extravagant spending – while he lives in a large house, his furniture is old-fashioned, and his TV is smaller than you’d find in most student flats.
After his lawyer’s comments, Mr Crimp “started dishing it out to people I think who needed it.”
He was attracted to the SPCA, “because most of their work is done by volunteers. It’s the same with the St John ambulance… Yeah, there’s a lot of people who do some good in this world without pay.”
He adopted his cat Scruffy from the Invercargill SPCA shelter, choosing her because she looked “skinny and miserable” and had been at the shelter longer than all the other cats.
“So I bought her. [Talking to Scruffy]: Didn’t I? I bought you there and then. I called her Scruffy because she was scruffy. You were scruffy then, weren’t you Scruffy?”
It’s hard to think of someone as a complete villain when they’re talking lovingly to their cat, although perhaps Dr Evil would beg to differ.
Mr Crimp’s generous side is forced to sit next to his habit of saying incredibly offensive things.
One of Mr Crimp’s stories demonstrates this duality. He lends “money out to poor suffering people sometimes” at a special low-interest rate.
He loaned $7000 to a Maori woman who needed a lung cancer operation, but it turned out “it was all bullshit, she wasn’t sick at all”.
Mr Crimp was understandably aggrieved, but does himself no favours whatsoever by describing the woman as “just a cheat, a big black Maori cheat.”
After that comment, he relented a little: “She’s had a pretty rough life… Yeah I’m feeling sorry for her already, she hasn’t got a job, she’s got a boyfriend who beats the hell out of her, she hasn’t got any money, oh God.”
Interviewing Mr Crimp made me think of Levi Hawkins, aka the “Nek Minnit” guy.
He’s a real, multi-faceted human being, yet we all essentially know him as an amusing dancing bear, a sideshow.
When he gets approached on the street, people ask him to say his catchphrase.
By seeking out Louis Crimp solely for the purpose of getting outrageous quotes, I was guilty of the same dehumanisation.
On the other hand, some of the quotes are pretty damn funny. It’s a difficult balancing act.
The liberated side
I asked Mr Crimp about his views on gay marriage, secretly hoping for some more controversy-laden denouncements.
But his prejudices against Maori don’t seem to extend to the rainbow community.
“I couldn’t care less. If Sir Elton John can work it, and write beautiful songs and stuff… ” He paused. “Are you a fruit?”
I mentally searched through my encyclopedia of 1950s slang, past “buffoon [medical diagnosis]” and “colour, person of”, and realise he’s asking whether I’m gay.
“Neither am I.”
As if to underscore his acceptance of all different lifestyles, Crimp continued: “I got a nephew that is, and he’s a nice guy, he’s tall dark and handsome, and clever.
"I remember I was with him one time over in a pub here, and I said to him: ‘That woman second from the end on the pokie machines, she’s a hooker.’ ‘Oh, go and get her out uncle, we’ll f*** her.’ I said, ‘Oh I thought you were a fruit?’ He says ‘Yeah but…both ways,’ he said.”
Mr Crimp told me he has been divorced for 15 years, and noted that “now people don’t get married, they just have partners.”
He then demonstrated his trademark tact and diplomacy with a series of questions.
“Have you got a partner?” Yep. “How long have you had her?” Three years. “Oh. Does she want to get married?”
Yeah, eventually. “Do you want to marry her?” Yeah, maybe in a few years. “But not at the moment.” No, not right now. I’m too young. “So you don’t love her. You just use her for sh*gging practice.”
Indeed, Louis, indeed. Maybe I should have followed the “have you ever had sex against a tree” reporter’s example and refused to answer personal questions.
But then this article would have one less amusing outburst.
Talking of the flora/fornication debacle, Crimp explained that it was all just a misunderstanding: “We were going through a place in the park where a friend of mine took a hooker one time, and the grass was wet, so they had sex against a tree.”
So the topic just kind of came up organically.
Crimp’s Maori counterpart, Hone Harawira, is known for making outrageous generalisations about a particular race, yet interacting normally with people of that race in person.
I get the feeling Crimp is similar. It’s like the way Otago students can make harsh generalisations (“Anyone who votes for John Key is a moron”/“Socialists are the spawn of Satan”) and yet have close friends from across the political spectrum.
But Mr Crimp is old enough that he should have outgrown the youthful tendency to make hugely exaggerated political statements.
Overall, the 79-year-old Crimp gives the impression that he has unfinished business, and that he just doesn’t care what people think about him any more.
“I want to wind things up and piss off, retire, you know. And if I could do something for Invercargill, that’s get rid of the ILT (Invercargill Licensing Trust). And if I could do something for NZ, [it would be to] have the Maoris be just like … all New Zealanders.”
Mr Crimp’s views are controversial and his way of expressing them is often highly offensive. And some of his stories are pretty out there.
But there is a genuine person behind the quotes and the political views, with flaws and virtues just like everyone else.
Learning something so profound almost made up for having to stay in Invercargill overnight. Almost.
This story is published courtesy of Critic